It wasn’t the ending Maryland’s players had anticipated, but their postseason was snuffed out before it began with the Terrapins’ omission from the 32-team National Invitation Tournament on Sunday night.
With only four ACC teams selected for the expanded NCAA tournament field, that ballooned the pool of league teams for NIT consideration. The panel chose three, granting Virginia Tech and Boston College No. 1 seeds and Miami a No. 2 seed.
It was difficult to quibble with the selection of those three ahead of Maryland (19-14), given their 5-0 record against the Terrapins. Virginia Tech (21 wins) and Boston College (20 wins) swept Maryland in the regular season; Miami (19 wins) won the teams’ only meeting on its home court.
Still, the NIT’s decision to pass over the Terrapins was a shock, snapping Coach Gary Williams’s streak of 17 consecutive postseason appearances since returning to his alma mater.
With six newcomers to the roster, Maryland, which split the 2010 ACC regular season title with Duke, was hampered by slow starts, late-game lapses and poor free throw shooting early in November and December and lost close games to such ranked opponents as Pittsburgh, Illinois and Temple.
As the lineup gelled, the Terrapins improved, beating Penn State, Clemson and Florida State — all eventual NCAA tournament teams. But a late-season slide cost the Terps dearly.
After losing its last three regular-season games, Maryland finished seventh in the ACC. Then, with a chance to improve on their 1-9 record against RPI top 50 teams, the Terps fell to Duke a third time in the ACC tournament after beating N.C. State in the opening round.
The 87-71 loss to Duke was hardly the note Maryland players wanted to end on. And in a downtrodden locker room afterward, no one spoke about the possibility that they wouldn’t get another chance to redeem themselves in the post-season.
Freshman point guard Terrell Stoglin, named to the ACC’s all-freshman team, surely was looking for another chance to make a final impression after hitting just two of his 10 shots from the field and committing five turnovers against Duke.
“Unfortunately, my team didn’t get that much help from me,” Stoglin said in the locker room afterward, “so I feel like that kind of hurt us a little bit.”
Sophomore center Jordan Williams, named to the first team all-ACC squad, also looked forward to getting back on court after lapsing back into his early-season struggles from the free throw line, hitting just two of his 10 from the stripe.
“We’re still excited we get a chance to play,” Jordan Williams said following the Duke loss. “Even though it’s not the NCAA tournament, which is where we wanted to be, we’re still excited to have the opportunity to play and to play together.”
No doubt it was a particularly bitter ending for Maryland’s seniors — Adrian Bowie, Dino Gregory and Cliff Tucker. They were freshmen the last time the Terrapins missed the NCAA tournament, in 2008, reaching the second round of the NIT. After Maryland got off to a poor start this season, losing three of its first ACC games, the seniors spoke to their young teammates about how dispiriting it was to miss March Madness, hoping the cautionary tale would serve as inspiration.
In the view of many Maryland faithful, being bypassed by the NIT represents the second significant snub of Terrapin athletics this year. After its football team finished tied for third in the ACC, with an 8-4 record, Maryland was relegated to a bowl game typically reserved for the conference’s eighth-best team.